Clement XII, Pope
CLEMENT XII, POPE
Pontificate: July 12, 1730, to Feb. 6, 1740; b. Lorenzo Corsini, Florence, April 7, 1652. His family was influential in Florence for centuries and included in its record the 14th-century bishop of Fiesole, St. andrew corsini.
After studies at the Roman College, Lorenzo proceeded to the University of Pisa to study law. Upon the death of his father, this eldest son of the family surrendered his rights of inheritance and entered the service of the Church, where his merit was recognized. Corsini became in turn titular bishop of Nicomedia (1690), nuncio to Vienna (1691), governor of the castel sant' angelo (1696), cardinal deacon of S. Susanna (1706), and later cardinal priest of S. Pietro in Vincoli and cardinal bishop of Frascati. While still a cardinal, Corsini emerged as a patron of art and scholarship. His long experience in church administration and his excellent life brought him to the papacy. At 79 he was experienced and wise, but he suffered much from gout and poor eyesight that deteriorated to the point of blindness in 1732. In spite of his physical debility Clement proved to be a vigorous leader, showing good executive judgment in his choice of capable officials. He sentenced the venal Cardinal Niccolò Coscia, who had abused the confidence of his predecessor, benedict xiii, to ten years' imprisonment. Among the measures Clement took to improve the bad state of finances in the papal kingdom was the restoration of the state lottery, which had been suppressed by Benedict XIII. With the money brought in by his many financial measures Clement was able to spend considerable sums to alleviate the distress of areas afflicted by natural disaster,
as well as carry out a building program that included the erection of the famous Fontana di Trevi and improvements of the venerable basilica of St. John Lateran. He also established a papal printing press.
His dealings with foreign powers were troubled. When Antonio Farnese, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, died in 1731 without a son, Don Carlos, son of King Philip V of Spain, claimed the duchies and took them over without regard for the pope's suzerainty. Clement protested in vain and preserved a prudent neutrality in the war in which Don Carlos also drove the Austrians out of Sicily.
Clement continued the policy of his predecessors with regard to the Jansenists. He demanded full submission to Clement XI's bull unigenitus (1713). In this matter he had the satisfaction of receiving the submission of the Benedictine Congregation of St. Maur (see maurists). While jansenism was dying, other movements were growing in this fourth decade of the 18th century. The Freemasons, who were making great progress throughout Europe, founded lodges in Italy during Clement's pontificate. In 1738 Clement condemned Freemasonry and forbade Catholics to belong to Masonic lodges under pain of excommunication. In the bull In Eminenti the pope expressed his reasons: the Freemasons are men of all sects and religions, bound together by natural morality; this bond is secret with an oath enforced by exaggerated penalties.
Perhaps Clement's greatest glory was his unceasing interest in missionary activity. He began by helping missionary seminaries. He founded a seminary for training priests of the Greek rite at Ullano in southern Italy. He helped the Maronites of Lebanon by sending the distinguished Lebanese scholar and Vatican librarian, Joseph Assemani, to preside over a national synod. He sent Franciscans to Abyssinia to work for the union of that kingdom with the Holy See. In the Far East he continued the policy of his predecessors in opposing the so-called Chinese and Malabar rites.
In the interests of justice, Clement overruled his representative at Ancona, the once powerful and famous minister of Spain, Cardinal Giulio alberoni, who in 1739 annexed the small republic of San Marino to the Papal States. Clement heeded the protests of the mountain folk and restored their freedom.
Bibliography: l. pastor, The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages, (London-St. Louis 1938–61) 34:301–510. a. f. artaud de montor, The Lives and Times of the Popes, 10 v. (New York 1910–11) 6:246–268. Bullarium Romanum (Magnum), ed., h. mainardi and c. cocquelines, 18 folio v. (Rome 1733–62) v.23–24. j. de la serviÈre, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 3.1:111–115. r. mols, Dictionnaire d'histoire et de géographie ecclésiastiques, ed. a. baudrillat et al. (Paris 1912–) 12: 1361–81, bibliog. r. chalumeau, Catholicisme 2:1197. w. j. callahan and d. higgs, eds., Church and State in Catholic Europe of the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge 1979). a. d. wright, The Early Modern Papacy: From the Council of Trent to the French Revolution, 1564–1789 (London 2000). m. caravale and a. caracciolo, Lo stato pontificio de Martino V a Pio IX (Turin 1978).
[j. s. brusher]